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The Question Of Quincy

Okay, last time, I had us heading into Quincy Market to get something to eat. On some level, I realize now, we were a little silly. We should have gone to one of the sit-down restaurants in the area, of which there are many. It would given us a chance to rest, and we would have more energy for the remainder of the day.

But, well, er, ah...back when we were much, much younger, and we had more energy, and, well, frankly, couldn’t afford the sit-down restaurants...we always ate standing up at the Market. And, by golly, we were going to do it again. No matter what.

About the photos: Two today. First, we have Martha standing out in front of Mr. Quincy’s market.

So, with way more dignity than smarts, we headed into the Market and the crowds. Again, I’ve forgotten what we got. I think Martha had a sandwich, or maybe it was a burrito. I pretty certain I got a gyros--dumb choice, in retrospect. Hard to manage all those fillings gracefully without a table to drop ‘em on. But, what the heck? Mere stupidity has never stopped me before.

Anyway, we gathered up our meals and looked for some place to sit. As we expected, there weren’t any unoccupied seats inside. So, we went out, found a handy bench which opened up just then, and we sat ...and ate...and dropped stuff (lettuce in my case. I always have great difficulty controlling my wayward lettuce)...and watched the world go by.

Okay, now, why is Quincy called Quincy?

For that, you have to go back to 1822...or just about 2 centuries ago. By that time, Boston had grown dramatically from its colonial beginnings. The city had long ago outpaced Faneuil Hall as its central market. It desperately needed a new setting for its business. But...where?

Enter Josiah Quincy III (1772-1864). He was a big name--an important man, as well as a member of the wealthy and prominent Quincy family. He represented Massachussets, as a Federalist, in Congress, and then came home to become the mayor of Boston (1823–1828). Later still, he was the president of Harvard.(1)

Second, here’s a painting of Mr. Quincy himself. This is a portrait by Gilbert Stuart and is, according to Wikipedia, in the public domain.(, Public Domain,

In 1834, Quincy saw that the need for a new retail space in the city was beginning to become desperate. So, he threw himself into the problem. The first thing he needed to do was find a location. There wasn’t much in the way of open land in downtown Boston at the time.

There was, however, the sea...

You’ll recall that I said that Boston was originally a peninsula -- sort of a Nahant in the large. Well, ever since the Revolution, the people of Boston have been filling in what used to be their harbor and adjacent waters. And, so, the area just behind Faneuil Hall was being filled. Just, in other words, the right spot for a new market.

The other issue was money. Boston’s residents were eager to get a market, but they weren’t so hot on the idea of paying for it. Here, Quincy applied himself with equal vigor and considerable intelligence, putting together a combination of municipal bonds and private investments. So, the building was constructed without any new taxes...which made him popular with the tax payers, if not always with the wealthy and the powerful (more about which later).

Long story short, Boston got its new market. And, some time later, (and not because of Quincy’s urging) it was named after the man given credit for building it.

Some asides, Quincy himself is not without controversy. The good news is that he vigorously opposed slavery, and so made up a bit for Mr. Faneuil’s failings in that regard. He is also credited with largely remaking Boston at a time when the city was in severe need of a brush and cleaning. He launched some of the first urban renewal projects in the nation’s history, cracked down on corruption and crime, reformed the city’s government, and, in a lot of ways, set the stage for Boston’s flowering in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He was, indeed, called by later Bostonians “The Great Mayor,” for his achievements.(2)

On the other hand...he was hated by the city’s elites because of his lavish spending on urban renewal projects (they later managed to vote him out of office, using methods that weren’t entirely legitimate), and once or twice he “solved” problems by simply abandoning them. For instance, at least according to his Wikipedia entry, when the city attempted to set up a high school for girls, only to have way too many potential students show up--along with their parents who were enraged when their daughters couldn’t get in--Quincy simply shut down the school completely. See? No school. No problem.(3)

Oh, and one other interesting thing. While he was in Congress, he became one of the very few Congressmen to oppose the admission of new states to the Union. Specifically, he was thoroughly against Louisiana becoming a state (which it did, finally, in 1812). Why didn’t he want Louisiana as one of these United States of ours?

Well, a lot of reasons. But one of the chief among them was that New Orleans and its territory seemed to him foreign. And he wasn’t alone in that. To Quincy, and many of his contemporaries, Louisiana was a problem. It was an alien country-- French in culture, with a different legal system (the Napoleonic Code), with a different Church (Catholic), and different ideas about race and slavery. (Not that there weren’t slaves in Louisiana. There definitely were. But there were also affluent Free People of Color. And there was considerable fraternization between the races.) (4)

None of this sat well with many an American.

Of course, in the end, everything worked out for Louisiana, if not always for Mayor Quincy. have a feeling...or, at least, I do...that if you listen hard enough, we really haven’t come so very far.

And that, alas, is a problem for us all.

More to come.


1. For more on Josiah Quincy, see his Wikipedia entry here: For more his market, see the Wikipedia entry on it, here:, and Quincy Market’s own page, here:

2. For more on Quincy as “The Great Mayor,” go to this page here:

3. From Quincy’s Wikipedia entry.

4. Quincy does not seem to have been a racist. But, he was concerned about the assimilation of people who did not share the Anglo-Saxon traditions of the original thirteen colonies. You can see more about that here:


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